Manuel Auad has been a vocal champion of great illustration since his work first began to appear in magazines in the '60s. Over the years he’s created a body of work that spans the globe and eras, encompassing artists as diverse as Alex Toth and Franklin Booth, Alex Nino and Albert Dorne, creators who all have one thing in common — they each in their own ways represent the pinnacle of achievement in the illustrated arts.
Auad has long since begun authoring and then publishing his own books focusing on the work of these and other worthy craftsmen. Along the way, he’s garnered the praise of his peers and art lovers, and won an Eisner, the most prestigious award given in comics.
More recently Auad turned his attention to perhaps the rarest printed work by Frank Brangwyn, one of the truly great 19th century artists, releasing a portfolio of stunning yet seldom seen images depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Manuel talks about Brangwyn and his work, why these particular illustrations are so rare, and what drives him to publish books and articles about artists whose many accomplishments might otherwise have faded from living memory.
Who was Frank Brangwyn, and what about the man and his body of work make him so noteworthy?
Frank Brangwyn was born 1867 in Bruges, Belgium, and in 1875 his family moved to London where he went to school. He became one of the most versatile artists of his generation. He created huge murals and large scale oil paintings; he worked in watercolor and pastel and his drawings are comparable with those of the Old Masters.
He was also an etcher, lithographer and woodcutter who enjoyed the technical challenge of printing. Also, he was an artist who was equally at home with the decorative arts, producing designs for furniture, carpets, tapestries, ceramics, glassware, jewelry, textiles and stained glass. He was the quintessential artist-craftsman.
Well, what about The Way of the Cross led you to focus on it, alone? And what about that particular series of images is so special that you decided to do it as a portfolio, rather than an art book?
The images in the portfolio came from a book published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1935 in a deluxe limited edition of 250 copies with a commentary by Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Aside from the 250 persons who have this book, these images were never reprinted again. That’s pretty much what made me want to do this.
I chose to do it as a portfolio simply to give the buyer the chance to have any or all of the images framed should he or she choose to. I especially had images printed in letterpress on Teton 80 lb. stock [with that option in mind].
How difficult was it to make this dream of yours a reality? What particular problems did it present that you might not have had to deal with while compiling one of your art books, for instance?
That’s just about what it was for me, a dream. I have always admired Frank Brangwyn for many years and to finally publish something that was never done before was quite exciting for me. It was a nice break from publishing another art book.
Surely this work was in the public domain, which begs the question of why securing the blessings of Brangwyn’s living relative was so important to you and the project?
Well, the first thing I needed to do was to find out if these images were in the public domain or was there was a Brangwyn Estate. I did what anybody nowadays does when looking for something, I Googled it. [Laughter] And, as it turned out, there was a gentleman in England named David Brangwyn who was a cousin or nephew—I don’t remember which right now—but he had the rights to most of the Brangwyn works. I wrote him and explained what I had in mind and he was very accommodating. After that, I took off.
How hard was it to locate really well preserved, high quality images to scan or shoot from?
Fortunately, I happen to be one of those 250 who own a copy of that 1935 Hodder & Stoughton book, The Way of the Cross. So I already had the material that I needed. Then I had my good friend Jim Vadeboncouer, Jr., who is a whiz at scanning images, scan them for me. He did such a fantastic job that you’d think these images were scanned from the original etchings.
Did you learn anything new about Brangwyn, or his art, while putting this project together?
Not really. I mean, like I said, I have always admired Frank Brangwyn’s work all these years so the whole project was a pleasant experience for me, and very rewarding to say the least.
Were there any pleasant—or perhaps even unpleasant—surprises you encountered along the way?
No no unpleasant surprises at all. Quite the contrary.
Did you get the same kind of pleasure and satisfaction from publishing this portfolio as you do from creating one of your art books? If it was different, in what way did it differ for you?
It was different in the way that there was no arrangement for the images, no layout problems. When I do a book about an artist, I always try to have things in order, like I always like to start with his/her early work and, as it progresses, continue through to their latest. I also try to divide the book into different sections—like advertising, magazine illustrations, children books illustration, editorials and whatever. I try to show the range of the artist’s talent so in the end you get a whole picture as to what this gifted artist is capable of.
Actually, to answer your other question, this is where sometimes I will encounter some pretty neat surprises. But no, I didn’t have any of these worries in doing the portfolio. It was a pleasant trip from beginning to end and I think it shows.
Is there any possibility of you doing a full blown retrospective art book on Brangwyn at some point, or is that something that you’re not really interested in pursuing?
Oh no, that would be a mammoth job and I don’t think I’m remotely qualified to undertake such a prestigious job. I would leave that to Ms. Libby Horner who wrote the text for the Brangwyn portfolio. She’s considered the world renowned authority on the life and works of Frank Brangwyn.
What’s your target audience for this project? Is this primarily meant for hard core illustration fans, academics and the faithful, or might it have broader appeal than is immediately evident?
Primarily, of course, are the fans and admirers of Frank Brangwyn. Or just folks who love good art. Collectors, I suppose, who are always interested in limited edition copies. Curators of museums or libraries. And, I guess, people that take pride in their faith.
What do you hope that your customers get from this particular release?
Satisfaction. Joy. And the simple pleasure in knowing they own a copy of Frank Brangwyn’s beautiful interpretation for The Way of the Cross, one of a very limited number of copies that you’ll want to treasure for now and always.
Let’s say that there’s someone out there who is uncertain if this is something for them, or perfect for someone on their gift list. What would you like to say to them that might help them change their mind?
For any of those folks I just mentioned, fans of Brangwyn, admirers of good art I mean what better present can you give that someone than a collector’s item? I don’t think a toaster will go very far, will it? [Laughter]
Will we be seeing more portfolios from Auad Publishing in the near or far terms, or is this basically a onetime deal?
Actually, yes. Some years ago I published a book on an American artist who was quite famous during the early part of the 20th century for his intricate style—Franklin Booth. He did some magnificent illustrations of vast, wonderful pastoral scenes and castles in the distance that just take your breath away.
It’ll probably have a dozen plates with the same type of printing and paper used in the Brangwyn portfolio, all suitable for framing, but this one will have an even smaller print run of 200 copies.
Anything else to add before I let you get back to work?
Well, I just started working on my next book, which will be on another famous American illustrator who was known by his peers as the Dean of Illustration, who most know by the name of Al Parker. I believe all those who purchased the Robert Fawcett volume, and my more recently released Albert Dorne book will want to include this one in their library.